If you're like most adults, the first thing you do upon waking up in the morning is to have a cup of coffee. In fact, statistics say that 90 percent of Americans take caffeine on a daily basis. So when exactly did this love affair with caffeine start? Tales reveal that coffee was already present in the 9th century and even the Stone Age. And although caffeine is found in many food products and medicines aside from the coffee beverage itself, it peaked as an ingredient in weight loss supplements after 2004.
The popularity of caffeine in weight loss drugs, pre-workout supplements and energy boosters came to the fore when the Food and Drug Administration banned the amphetamine-like stimulant ephedra. Although ephedra is an effective compound in boosting metabolism and burning fat, it was also found to quicken the heart rate and constrict blood vessels, hence raising a person’s risk for heart attacks and strokes. Caffeine, on the other hand, had the stimulating effects of ephedra but without its dangerous corollaries. Even though ephedra has since been given the green light - the extract can only come from a certain part of the plant now - caffeine was never placed on the list of prohibited substances.
In the past decade, caffeine in the form of coffee and tea became even more popular as evidenced by the growing number of coffee shops opening. Drinking these beverages was seen as cool among students; the working professionals made these shops their places to relax and unwind. Caffeine intake thus grew by leaps and bounds. A growing fad is saltshakers filled with non-bitter caffeine powder that you sprinkle on your food or drinks to give you an instant energy lift. For quicker results, it can be sprinkled directly on your tongue- great for when you are driving or in a meeting.
Yet, even if a moderate intake of caffeine (200-300 mg per day) is considered as generally safe by the American Heart Association and the US FDA, taking in as little as 100 mg of caffeine per day is enough to create caffeine addiction. Those were the findings of studies done by Professor Roland Griffiths of the Behavioral Biology Research Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Addiction in whatever form is not a desirable state. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “a compulsive need for and use of a habit forming substance...,” it takes control of the addict both physically and psychologically. Caffeine addiction however is a socially acceptable condition. This is because most people don’t consider caffeine as a drug, although it is a psychoactive substance and the most commonly ingested one globally.
Among Americans, 20 to 30 percent consume more than 600 mg of caffeine per day, way above the moderate level set by the AHA. The most common sources are coffee, tea and soda. The caffeine content in weight loss supplements varies from 50 to 300 mg per dose, which falls within the low to moderate level. So you may be right in assuming that these diet pills are relatively safe to take where caffeine content is concerned.
The good thing about caffeine addiction is it doesn’t produce the hallucinogenic effects that dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine do, and it isn’t as harmful to the body as nicotine and alcohol addictions are. In fact, it takes seven or more cups of coffee to trigger a response from the drinker. Caffeine is only mildly addictive and the physical harm it can do is too minimal to outweigh its many benefits.
One of its foremost negative effects is dehydration, a consequence of the diuretic effect of caffeine. Increased heart rates and palpitations occur only if too much caffeine is consumed. Dehydration can be countered simply by increasing water intake and people with cardiovascular conditions would do well to stick to the safe intake level. Why deprive yourself of the pleasure when there are so many benefits you can get from caffeine? Regular coffee drinkers have lower risks of getting diabetes mellitus and colon cancer. They also have less chances of developing Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine raises the mental alertness of its users, fights fatigue, enhances focus and improves memory. It also aids in developing better stamina and intensity when engaging in exercise.
The best remedy to caffeine addiction is not total abstention from it but a decrease in caffeine intake. And since it's difficult to monitor the exact amount of caffeine you ingest in a single day, putting a limit on food and drinks that contain the substance will do. You can also go for products that have lower caffeine content, such as decaffeinated drinks. Total withdrawal from caffeine produces the following symptoms: headache, sluggishness, fatigue, decreased concentration, nausea and vomiting, depression and increased irritability.
Lastly, after the advocates and critics of caffeine have said their piece, it’s up to you to decide if you will get off the caffeine bandwagon and forfeit its benefits. Or regulate your intake to avoid the adverse effects of caffeine overload but reap the good that responsible caffeine consumption gives.